Why Australian cities need post-COVID vision, not free parking



Brent Toderian/Twitter

Rebecca Clements, University of Sydney; Elizabeth Taylor, Monash University, and Thami Croeser, RMIT University

Many Australian cities have fallen back on offering free car parking to attract visitors back to the CBD after the pandemic. In contrast, cities around the world are basing their recovery strategies on bold and evidence-based urban transformations.




Read more:
How COVID all but killed the Australian CBD


In August, Adelaide City councillors voted for incentives for people to drive and park within the CBD, including a controversial “driver’s month” promotion. In Perth, free parking in the CBD during the holidays is expected to cost A$700,000.

In Victoria, the state hit hardest by the pandemic, the City of Geelong has announced a range of free CBD parking policies estimated to cost several million dollars. Melbourne City Council has endorsed free on-street parking via a voucher system estimated to cost $1.6 million in lost revenue. It’s also seeking to reduce the state-based congestion levy on off-street parking by 25%.

The move to increase car traffic into the central city is perhaps most surprising in the case of Melbourne. Planners have called it a “1960s solution” and a “lost opportunity”. Free parking and other incentives for car travel are at odds with the city’s recent Transport Strategy 2030, which seeks to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport.

Parking incentives don’t work

These car-led approaches to a hoped-for economic recovery were rushed out ahead of new evidence and modelling. This approach also goes against decades of available evidence on the detrimental impacts of conventional urban parking policies in Australia and internationally.

Free parking – pursued and mandated in many cities since the mid-20th century – has a nasty habit of building in unnecessary car use through narrowly targeted subsidies to car users, which directly undermine other transport modes. Parking researcher Liz Taylor recently explained the historical myths and troubled relationships between retail and parking we risk perpetuating.




Read more:
The elephant in the planning scheme: how cities still work around the dominance of parking space


COVID has changed cities, and we must adjust

Cheap parking has poor prospects for attracting enough visitors to offset the changes the pandemic has brought to Australian CBDs. CBDs rely heavily on daily office workers – who are now largely working from home – and on large residential populations, including international students and tourists to whom borders are now closed.

In Melbourne, daily journeys into the city are down 90%. Only 8% of office towers are occupied.

Even so, car traffic is now at roughly 90% of its pre-COVID levels. Cars are already back, but that does not translate to people in CBDs – and road capacity means the city can’t manage many more cars.

Chart showing use of cars, public transport and walking in Melbourne from January to the end of November
Apple mobility data for Melbourne show car travel is back to almost pre-pandemic levels.
Apple Mobility Trends, CC BY

Similarly, Australian CBD retail landscapes have been drastically altered. Experts predict many lasting changes, including retail “localism” in the suburbs.




Read more:
The suburbs are the future of post-COVID retail


Parking hasn’t played any role in these changes. Instead, major economic shifts and political decisions have forced and enabled changes in work and lifestyle.

Many CBD workers simply won’t have to come back. CBDs previously didn’t need to be pleasant to be full of people – many were forced to be there. That has changed, and so the city must change too – from a destination of default to a destination of choice.

The adjustment can create better cities

Encouraging cars back into the hearts of cities isn’t just a bad recovery strategy. It could be a huge missed opportunity to create more attractive, high-amenity cities.

Around the world, many cities are welcoming the chance to use parking and streets differently, farewelling the daily car commute to embrace something better.

In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s visionary “15-minute city” plan aims to replace 60,000 surface parking spaces with green pedestrianised streets, safe dedicated cycling networks and “children streets” near schools. The plan actively turns away from car dominance.

Barcelona’s mayor has announced a massive green revamp of the central city. Its already successful Superblock model, based on large-scale pedestrianisation, will be super-sized. Intersections and parking are being turned into parks and plazas.




Read more:
Superblocks are transforming Barcelona. They might work in Australian cities too


London is creating hundreds of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), as is car-dependent Brussels. LTNs are based on transforming streets with quality cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, closing some streets to car traffic and otherwise instituting low speeds. Oslo’s “Vision Zero” strategy demonstrates the power of these measures to transform cities.

As these cities are finding, street reclamation projects can succeed quickly, and local businesses and neighbourhoods of all income levels benefit. However, leaders need to “hold their nerve” through the complex period of change.

New ways of seeing cities

Australian cities are changing with COVID too. Melbourne in particular has been forced to radically rethink streets as public space at a metropolitan scale. Through innovative co-operation between retailers and local councils, hundreds of parklets have emerged across the city.

These spaces offer sensible, creative and exciting ways for people to re-embrace dining out after lockdown. The enthusiastic reception is already causing many retailers to forget about parking and call for permanent changes.

The City of Melbourne has issued 1,300 outdoor dining permits and transformed 200 on-street parking spaces. This raises the the question of whether free parking is the best use of its precious public space and funds.

Diners sit within a green parklet on Lygon Street in Melbourne, having fun on reclaimed street space.
A parklet on reclaimed street space on Lygon Street, Melbourne.
Liz Taylor (own photo)

While systematic study of parking is often scarce, far stronger evidence supports the economic value of space for active transport, green space and outdoor dining. Our future cities can be places where people “will see the street belongs to them”.

Street space can feel like the exclusive (and hostile) realm of cars, but it is simply public land that is currently (mis)allocated to cars. Perceptions are beginning to change, allowing city residents to reimagine what streets might offer beyond moving and storing cars.

The race is on to invite people back to our cities. But a return to streets full of cars, narrow sidewalks crowded with pedestrians, and parking problems that never go away simply isn’t much of an invitation.

When urbanist Brent Toderian asked people to post photos showing #TheBeautyofCities, the hundreds of submissions featured green streets full of people walking, cycling and having fun, not car parking and traffic.The Conversation

Rebecca Clements, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Sydney; Elizabeth Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning & Design, Monash University, and Thami Croeser, Research Officer, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How COVID all but killed the Australian CBD



Shutterstock

Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia and Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

The central business district has historically been the beating heart of metropolitan regions across Australia. The polished glass and steel high-rise offices, hotels and apartment complexes stand as monuments to architectural, construction, engineering and, of course, economic success.

CBD-based workers and visitors, plus increasing residential densities, have played a major role in sustaining the diversity and vibrancy of retailing in our capital cities. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that. The impacts on CBDs across Australia’s capital cities have been devastating.

We explore these impacts city by city in this article. In a second article, we consider the implications of the loss of CBD activity for our cities.

In urban planning terms, CBDs have long stood at the apex of the activity centre hierarchy. They are key nodes of employment and consumption for the services, hospitality and retail sectors. Most CBD workers and shoppers travel from middle and outer suburbs.

Globally, however, the retail sector has experienced profound changes over the past 5-10 years. The result is so-called “dead malls” in the US and the “death” of the high street in the UK.

In Australia, CBD-based retailing has been on life support for most of 2020. At times Australian CBDs, especially Melbourne, and some shopping centres have resembled ghost towns.

A hollowed-out CBD

Data from Google’s Community Mobility Reports provide insights into visitor trends to retail/recreation places at a range of scales – national, state and local government area. The Google data show percentage changes in visitor numbers from a baseline day: “the median value from the 5-week period Jan 3 – Feb 6, 2020”.

For the two weeks from February 15-29, average visitor numbers to retail/recreation places across all major capital cities were above their baselines. Adelaide led the way with numbers up by 23.2%. Melbourne (8.5%) and Sydney (5.8%) were performing relatively well. Brisbane’s footfall was up by only 0.7%; below the national average of 1.3%.

Adelaide’s numbers were 56% and 50% above the city baseline on February 29 and March 7. Two factors explain this: the Adelaide Festival was on; and March 6-9 was a long weekend public holiday in South Australia.

The arrival of COVID-19 in late February and government responses had a dramatic impact on visitors to retail/recreation places across all capital cities. CBD-dominant local government areas (LGAs) – Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney – were more badly affected than Hobart and Brisbane whose metropolitan regions are defined by a single LGA.

As can be seen below, visitor numbers began to decline in early March. Perth’s numbers fell by 42% on March 2. A week later, March 9, numbers in Brisbane, Melbourne and Hobart fell by 10%, 19% and 34% respectively. Sydney experienced its first double-digit decline (19%) on March 14.

From mid-March the numbers went into free fall across all state capitals.

Nationally, retail/recreation visitors were down 76% by April 10. CBD-dominant LGAs were even more dramatically affected. Perth was down by 95%. Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart were close behind at -93%, -92% and -90% respectively. Brisbane (down 80%) was the least affected capital city.

All these capitals began to experience a rebound in visitor numbers from mid-April through to late July. Brisbane led the way as numbers climbed back to their highest levels, 3% below its baseline, on July 19. Perth was 12% below baseline on the same day.

Empty shop up for lease
Some CBD businesses, like this one in Perth, didn’t survive the plunge in visitor numbers.
Paul Maginn, Author provided

The return of retail/recreation visitors in Sydney has been a slow, bumpy process and lagged well behind the national trend. The city’s best visitor numbers for the April-July period were on July 4 with -32%. Sydney did not surpass these numbers until October 4 when visitors were 30% below its baseline.

Melbourne’s best day since its low of -95% on April 10 was June 20 when footfall was down by 53%. The second lockdown in early August sent Melbourne’s visitor numbers plummeting again, to -90% on August 22. As of October 16, the city had made a small recovery with numbers down by 85%.




Read more:
Cars rule as coronavirus shakes up travel trends in our cities


‘Localism’ on the rise

As a result of many people, especially casuals, losing their jobs and large numbers of office-based CBD workers working from home, the suburbs have emerged as the dominant space of retail/recreation activity in metropolitan Australia.

The data clearly show retail/recreation numbers in outer-suburban LGAs were much less affected than CBD-dominant LGAs. In other words, a new sense of “localism” has emerged.

The table below provides an overview of the changes (average, median, minimum and maximum) in visitors to retail/recreation places nationally and for 30 LGAs from across the capital city metropolitan regions from February 15 to October 16.

Nationally, numbers were down almost 20% on average, with a low of -76% on April 10. Nineteen LGAs performed above the national average. Most of these were traditional outer-suburban LGAs in Adelaide, Perth and Sydney.

Summary of retail/recreation visitor numbers by CBD and outer-suburban LGAs (Feb 15 – Oct 16, 2020)
Data: Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, Author provided

Unsurprisingly, average visitor numbers in Melbourne’s outer suburban LGAs were well below the national trend. But so too were numbers for the Gold Coast (-22.45%) and Parramatta (-24.16%), Sydney’s so-called second CBD.

The charts below provide detailed overviews of daily trends for CBD-based and outer-suburban LGAs across Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Overall trends in CBD and outer-suburban LGAs across the state capitals have followed similar trajectories. However the fall in numbers has been much more severe in CBD-dominant LGAs, while recovery has been more rapid in outer suburban LGAs.

Perth and Adelaide have fared better than Australia’s two powerhouse CBDs – Sydney and Melbourne. This is largely due to a combination of factors including: more effective management of COVID-19; smaller and less dense populations; and fewer international and interstate visitors.

The rebounds in Adelaide and Perth, albeit still below baseline, and the upcoming Christmas shopping period offer a glimmer of hope for CBD retailers in Sydney and Melbourne.

Now that the hard lockdown in Melbourne has ended, we are likely to see an immediate rebound in visitor numbers. However, given how low numbers have fallen, a return to “normality” – a dominant CBD – seems a long way off.

CBD retailers will likely continue to endure the legacy impacts of COVID-19 when this pandemic eventually passes. And they face wider structural challenges from within the wider retail sector, which we discuss in our second article.The Conversation

Paul J. Maginn, Associate Professor of Urban/Regional Planning, University of Western Australia and Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will the population freeze allow our big cities to catch up on infrastructure?


Glen Searle, University of Sydney and Crystal Legacy, University of Melbourne

The 2020 federal budget forecasts Australia’s population growth will slow to almost zero over several years because of COVID-19 and related restrictions. This leads to the question: will this period allow the big cities to catch up on infrastructure shortfalls that developed before the pandemic?

One of us recently conducted research on how infrastructure shortages – such as rail lines, open space and affordable housing – linked to Sydney’s pre-pandemic rapid growth arose in the context of government support for a lot more population. The findings gives us some insights into whether an infrastructure catch-up might happen.




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The impacts of fiscal imbalance

The research centred on the consequences for infrastructure provision in Sydney of the vertical fiscal imbalance in Australia. The Commonwealth collects more than 80% of tax revenue while the states rely on the Commonwealth for 45% of their revenue.

The federal government, especially the Treasury, favours population growth. That’s because it generates extra tax revenue, reduces the risk of recession and spreads the welfare costs of an ageing society across a wider base.

The state government is also positive about growth, though less so than the Commonwealth. As a public marker of successful government, growth provides political legitimacy. However, it also requires the state, under the Australian Constitution, to provide most of the infrastructure needed to support that growth.

On the other hand, the Commonwealth garners most of the extra tax revenue from growth. Extra state revenue from a growing population is absorbed into the unavoidable recurrent costs of health, education and so on to service the increased needs. As a result, the state government is unable to fund enough new public infrastructure.

Commonwealth infrastructure funding to the state is only a small fraction of the total required. The federal budget says New South Wales will receive A$2.7 billion from the Commonwealth for infrastructure over the next decade. The state government’s forecast infrastructure spending is more than A$100 billion over the next four years.

As a result, the state needs to call on private sector funding as much as possible. This means infrastructure that can’t be fully paid for by users, such as rail lines, open space and affordable housing, is under-provided. And, as is the case in Victoria, existing assets such as public housing are sold to the private sector.




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An over-reliance on growth?

This context suggests the pandemic-induced flatlining of population growth won’t necessarily allow the infrastructure shortfall to be overcome. Cities are unlikely to catch up unless the Commonwealth greatly increases its funding of state infrastructure.

State budgets rely heavily on growth-sensitive revenue such as property transfer taxes and the GST. And these are set to fall. NSW GST revenue, for example, is forecast to be A$3.5 billion lower this financial year than anticipated before the pandemic.

For states to fund infrastructure beyond user-pay projects like motorways, they have to take on debt to offset reduced taxation revenue. But this will be constrained by their desire to preserve their credit ratings as a marker of good governance.

The federal government is less constrained. The combined influences of ultra-low interest rates and the Reserve Bank’s availability to buy government bonds mean much higher Commonwealth debt is now fiscally tolerable.

The question then becomes: can the Commonwealth’s ability to shoulder increased debt be used to provide the states with more infrastructure funding? The Commonwealth’s huge budgeted outlays to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic are obviously a major constraint on this happening.




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Nevertheless, infrastructure projects are generally seen as an important vehicle for responding to the effects of the pandemic. And state government projects count just as much as Commonwealth projects for economic recovery.

However, the federal budget provides little cause for optimism here. The big cities received relatively little infrastructure funding, and certainly very little to overcome current shortfalls.

For instance, the main Sydney project funded was the St Marys-Western Sydney Airport rail line. However no business case for the line has been released, and it is likely to be a decades-long white elephant with little passenger traffic.

A case for more federal funding

The case for more Commonwealth funding of state infrastructure goes beyond helping a post-pandemic recovery. The big cities need funding for public goods such as public housing and mass transport.




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But developing infrastructure of this kind offers limited opportunities for user-pays financing, especially where current shortfalls are significant. These public-good projects range from relatively small projects such as dedicated cycleways to big-ticket items like Sydney’s Metro West and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, as well as low-job but high-need items like land purchases for new public open space.

The role government played in responding to the pandemic reminded us just how important leadership, accountability and public-sector-led co-ordination are in times of crisis.

Climate change is another crisis that requires such a response, particularly when it comes to infrastructure investment and delivery. Infrastructure that reduces our dependency on carbon involves investment in high-quality public transport, active transport (walking and cycling) and public open spaces.




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Cycling and walking can help drive Australia’s recovery – but not with less than 2% of transport budgets


In some areas the private sector is well placed to deliver greener outcomes. But in areas such as transport, open space and housing, government investment must play a central role. The transformation that the challenges of the 21st century demand of us needs bold leadership from our elected officials.

As our research has concluded, a deep analysis of the costs and benefits of big city population growth for state government finances should provide the basis for a new federal-state financial accord that addresses the imbalance of such costs and benefits between the two levels of government.The Conversation

Glen Searle, Honorary Associate Professor in Planning, University of Queensland, University of Sydney and Crystal Legacy, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From the COVID-19 epicentre: lessons from Latin American cities’ successes and failures


Hayley Henderson, Australian National University

Latin America is now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fastest spread of the disease in the region’s cities follows a pattern of contagion that is anything but arbitrary. Disturbing images in international media depict the unfolding crisis, from disinfection campaigns in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to stockpiles of cardboard coffins in Guayaquil, Ecuador.




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Deaths and desperation mount in Ecuador, epicenter of coronavirus pandemic in Latin America


By this week, about 30% of the world’s reported cases were in the region. But some centres have been much worse hit than others.
Two factors underpin these variations: levels of inequality, and the ways governments and communities are handling the crisis.

World map showing distribution of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population for each country
Worldwide distribution of 14-day cumulative number of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population. Darkest colours indicate highest rates of infection.
ECDC, CC BY

Across the region’s largest cities, the first cases had appeared by early March in well-off neighbourhoods. Not until May were exponential rates of infection recorded in most Latin American countries. The surge in cases reflected the spread of coronavirus across cities and into their poorest neighbourhoods.

The poor are more vulnerable

Many of the urban poor have not been able to manage risk in the way that the better-off do. To make ends meet they often travel long distances in public transport to work in wealthier neighbourhoods. Those who have jobs are often employed in the informal economy: cleaning houses, fixing electrical problems, selling vegetables and so on.

By June 2020, infection rates were increasing in many middle-class neighbourhoods too –
for example, in Buenos Aires. However, self-isolation is a more realistic prospect in these areas. Medical care is also more accessible.

Inequality created ideal conditions for COVID-19 to spread. The disease disproportionately affects residents of informal settlements in the largest cities. One-fifth of the Latin American population lives in such settlements.

As well as their work being insecure, their living conditions add to their vulnerability. Some of the problems faced can include overcrowding, malnutrition, deficient sewer systems, limited (and often paid) access to drinkable water, overwhelmed or unaffordable health services and indoor air pollution from cooking (with open fires or simple stoves, for example).




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Given these conditions, COVID-19 is far from a levelling force. It is the latest crisis to reveal old and hard truths about Latin America’s social and economic geography.

Quality of governance laid bare

The virus has not spread unabated in all Latin American cities. The quality of governance and the preparedness of services have greatly affected outcomes between cities and countries.

Some have paid a high price for the harmful impacts of inconsistent communications by authorities and political leaders, weak public health systems, liberalised employment conditions and lack of support for disadvantaged groups.

Mortality analyses conducted by the Coronavirus Resource Center at John Hopkins University show six of the countries most affected by COVID-19 worldwide are now in Latin America. Brazil, Chile and Peru have reached 50 or more deaths per 100,000 population. Nowhere has it been made clearer how a chronically underfunded public health system leaves behind vulnerable people.

The mortality rate is lower in other parts of the region. In these countries, strict restrictions have been introduced and the public health systems bolstered since the start of the pandemic. Leading examples include Uruguay, with 1.07 deaths per 100,000 people, and Argentina (11.7/100,000).

In June, Time included Argentina’s response in “The Best Global Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic”. In the capital, Buenos Aires, co-ordination between the three levels of government has been strong on public health as well as economic and social protection measures despite political differences. Shared communications have backed strict lockdown measures every fortnight since March 20 (read more about the Buenos Aires experience here).

Bottom-up efforts are vital too

It is not just top-down approaches by government that make a difference to local outcomes. The bottom-up work of social organisations in Latin American cities has also been vital.

We see this work especially in informal settlements that lack public services. Often run voluntarily and by women, these organisations cook meals for people in need, make masks, source medications, spread public information and fix broken houses.




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Many of their actions are also directed toward the state. With an ethic of care, they seek to drive anti-neoliberal change and demonstrate a better urban future centred on people’s real lives and desires.

For example, across the region feminist social movements and politics are dismantling patriarchal perspectives about modern cities. Their collective response to the COVID-19 crisis is a demonstration of solidarity.

Posts by Latin American feminist groups
Feminist movements debate ‘ecofeminism’ and ‘the city we want to return to’.
Ecofeminism Encounters, Latin American Dialogue (https://www.ciudadfeminista.cl/, https://www.ciudaddeldeseo.com/), Author provided

Remaking cities after the pandemic

Looking forward to the post-pandemic city, there are valuable lessons to be learnt from Latin America.

First, debilitating inequality must be redressed. Poverty has been built into the way cities are developed. But this is now being denaturalised.

Second, co-ordinated and strong state-led action that made public health the priority has saved lives in cities like Buenos Aires. Bipartisan leadership and collaboration between levels of government can also help us deal with pressing urban challenges in the future.

Third, because of the ubiquitous albeit unequal way coronavirus has affected people across cities, there is potential for a post-pandemic future that focuses on collective well-being.

Many Latin American social organisations, and the networks between them, offer hope and direction for the challenge of recovery. Not only do they provide vital support in crisis management, they could play a democratising role in shaping politics and state responses to redress inequality over the long term.The Conversation

Hayley Henderson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why COVID-19 might not change our cities as much as we expect



Brian S/Shutterstock

Christian A. Nygaard, Swinburne University of Technology; Iris Levin, Swinburne University of Technology, and Sharon Parkinson, Swinburne University of Technology

What will be the normal way of urban living when the COVID-19 crisis passes? What aspects will remain with us and what will disappear?

The coronavirus pandemic has thrust us into a moment of rapid change. Like all change, it is difficult to predict. But lessons from history provide us with two important insights.




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First, temporary change sometimes has remarkably little lasting effect.

Second, what looks like a lasting effect is often the acceleration of existing trends, rather than new, crisis-caused trends.

COVID-19 impacts provide an opportunity for our cities to shift to new ways of urban living. But only if we couple this opportunity with technology and deliberate collective action will sustained and equitable change happen.

What does history tell us?

Right now, COVID-19 impacts are front of mind. In thinking ahead, we might therefore overemphasise what a crisis will do to how we live in cities. To put it simply, history shows us that the ways we organise our cities are often resistant to abrupt change – even in response to catastrophic events.

In Japan, changes to population distribution as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 had disappeared by the early 1960s.

Almost 40% of Europe’s population died during the Black Death (1347-1352). Much of Europe’s urban hierarchy nevertheless returned to its pre-plague distribution over time.

Even the collapse of the urbanised Roman civilisation had little lasting effect on the urban hierarchy in France. It did lead, though, to a resetting of the urban network in England.

The reason for this urban inertia is that momentary change often does little to change the fundamentals of our cities. It doesn’t greatly change locational advantages, built environment legacy, property rights and land ownership.

London, for instance, has experienced slum clearance, Spanish flu, wartime bombing and the introduction of greenbelts and planning over the past 100 years. However, the location of the city’s rich and poor continues to be shaped by infrastructure investments in the Victorian era. And the Roman-period road layout has strongly influenced the street layout of central London today.

After all the upheavals London has endured through two millennia, the influence of the Roman road network can still be seen in the city today.
Fremantleboy, Drallim/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

At the same time, cities do of course change. In some cases dramatic events – like fires or earthquakes – are the enablers of change that is already underfoot. That is, business and policy coupling opportunity with technology and determination.




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How are business practices responding to COVID-19

Businesses will not – and should not – be slow to couple opportunity, technology and determination to achieve particular outcomes.

For instance, working from home has overnight (temporarily) become endemic. Higher education institutions (temporarily setting aside the challenges for teaching) switched remarkably quickly to almost exclusively online platforms.

COVID-safe shopping has popularised some automation. Demand for “contactless” service delivery has advanced some smart and robot technology into common use.

Some have argued that well before COVID-19 the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and online platforms had catapulted us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s a world of work and cities that are digitally smart, dispersed and connected.




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Working from home, online teaching and automation couple opportunity (as a result of COVID-19) and technology (digital communication) with longer-term trends.

Between 2001 and today, the office space per worker in many knowledge-intensive jobs shrank from 25 square metres to just 8sqm in new developments. Flexible working arrangements and casualisation across a range of sectors enable businesses to manage wage bills when wage rates cannot be reduced.

Automation also reduces business wage bills and has long been touted as a way to increase productivity. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, automation may affect 25-46% of current jobs.

The “death of the office” has long been predicted. Rumours of its death are likely exaggerated this time too.

Face-to-face interaction between workers often increases productivity in service and knowledge-based industries. Research shows face-to-face contact enhances co-operative and pro-social behaviour.




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Similarly, research suggests concentrating workers and their skills in one location (agglomeration economies) can increase much-needed labour productivity. This is required to offset the shifting labour-force balance in an ageing society.

What’s the role of public policy?

Our cities today work better for some than for others. Sustained and equitable change requires public sector action and will.

Temporary measures during the pandemic have brought home just how viable telecommuting is for some jobs and how achievable online teaching modes can be.

This will leave winners and losers. Unlike change itself, the winners and losers are often far more predictable. Women, renters, lower-income and migrant-dominated jobs are more vulnerable.




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What is imperative, therefore, is that governments similarly couple technology and opportunity with a vision for cities that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. This sort of urban future requires economic innovation. Change is confronting us with an opportunity and necessity to redress entrenched privilege.

History tells us critical events such as COVID-19 often do little to change the fundamentals of our cities. An important step in envisioning different urban futures is to recognise it is people, businesses, institutions and political will that collectively make change.The Conversation

Christian A. Nygaard, Associate Professor in Social Economics, Swinburne University of Technology; Iris Levin, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology, and Sharon Parkinson, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cars rule as coronavirus shakes up travel trends in our cities



Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Neil G Sipe, The University of Queensland

As with other parts of the global economy, COVID-19 has led to rapid changes in transport trends. The chart below shows overall trends for driving, walking and public transport for Australia as of July 17.

Australia-wide mobility trends for the six months from January to July 2020.
Apple Mobility Trends

Unfortunately, the current lockdown of metropolitan Melbourne, which is at odds with trends in Australia’s other biggest cities, is skewing the national average. These data, provided by Apple Mobility Trends, are available for many cities, regions and countries around the world.

Updated daily, the data provide a measure of trends in transport use since early January 2020. The chart below summarises the changes since then in driving, walking and public transport for Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

With the exception of Melbourne, driving has recovered and is now noticeably above pre-pandemic levels.




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How to avoid cars clogging our cities during coronavirus recovery


Public transport use is still well below baseline levels. It is recovering – again except for Melbourne – but slowly. The exception is Adelaide where public transport is only slightly below the baseline.

Walking is doing better than public transport. Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth are slightly above the baseline, while Sydney is slightly below it. Melbourne is still down by about a half.

How badly did lockdowns affect travel?

The chart below shows the largest declines in driving, walking and public transport were recorded in the period April 4-11. Most of the lowest values coincided with Easter holidays. However, regardless of the holiday, this was the period when levels of transport use were lowest.

The declines are fairly consistent across the cities. For driving, the declines were around 70%. For walking, the declines ranged from 65% to 80%. Public transport recorded declines of 80-89%.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

The recovery in driving is due, in part, to it being seen as having a lower risk of COVID-19 infection. People see public transport as the least safe because of the difficulties of social distancing on potentially crowded commutes.

A study in early March by an MIT economist amplified these fears by associating public transport in New York City with higher rates of COVID-19 infection. Unfortunately, the research had some significant flaws. Health experts have since indicated there is little evidence public transport has been the source of any COIVD-19 infections.




Read more:
Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes


Neverthess, public transport agencies are in serious financial trouble. In the US, experts are warning that, without large federal subsidies, public transport services are facing drastic cuts, which will impact where people live and work. Such shifts pose a threat to the economic viability of cities.

What is known about other transport modes? While comprehensive datasets are not available, evidence is emerging of the impacts on ride, bike and scooter sharing.

Ride sharing

As with all other transport modes, the pandemic has had big impacts on ride sharing. However some ride-sharing companies, like Uber, have diversified in recent years into areas such as food and freight delivery. These have provided much-needed revenue during the ride-sharing downturn.

Market analysts are predicting ride sharing will recover and continue to grow. This is due to need for personal mobility combined with increasing urbanisation and falling car ownership.




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Bike sharing

Globally, transport officials are predicting a long-term surge in bicycle use. Cycling appears to be booming at the expense of public transport.

Beijing’s three largest bike share schemes reported a 150% increase in use in May. In New York City, volumes grew by 67%. Bike sales in the US almost doubled in March.

In response, many cities are providing more cycling infrastructure, with cities like Berlin and Bogota leading the way with “pop-up” bike lanes. New Zealand has become the first country to fund so-called “tactical urbanism”.




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Melbourne has announced 12km of pop-up bike lanes and is fast-tracking an extra 40km of bike lanes over the next two years. Sydney has added 10km of pop-up cycleways. Use of some Brisbane bikeways has nearly doubled, leading to criticism of delays in providing pop-up lanes.

London intends to rapidly expand both cycling and walking infrastructure in anticipation of a ten-fold increase in bicycle use and a five-fold increase in pedestrians. This complements a £250 million (A$448 million) UK government program to reallocate more space for cyclists.

Paris plans to add 50km of pop-up and permanent bikeways in coming months. It’s also offering a €500 (A$818) subsidy to buy an electric bike and €50 to repair an existing bike.

Milan will add 35km of bikeways as part of its Strade Aperte Plan. The Italian government is providing a 70% subsidy capped at €500 for people to buy a new bicycle.

We will have to wait to see whether all this interest translates into longer-term mode change.

E-scooters

E-scooter use has declined, as has the value of e-scooter companies. Lime, one of the larger companies, was valued at US$2.4 billion (A$3.4 billion) last year but is down to US$510 million. Nevertheless, investor interest continues. Uber, Alphabet, GV and Bain and others put $US170 into Lime in May.

In Europe, ride-sharing company Bolt plans to expand its e-scooter and e-bike services to 45 cities in Europe and Africa this year. Another positive sign for this mode is that the UK, where e-scooters have not been street legal, has begun trials of rental e-scooters.




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It is still too early to predict the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on transport. What the data show is that driving has recovered and is even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Current trends suggest active mobility – cycling, scooters and walking – may gain mode share. Whether public transport can recover is questionable, unless a vaccine becomes available.The Conversation

Neil G Sipe, Honorary Professor of Planning, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to avoid cars clogging our cities during coronavirus recovery



Iain Lawrie, Author provided

Iain Lawrie, University of Melbourne and John Stone, University of Melbourne

As we re-open our economy and workers gradually return to workplaces, overall travel will increase. However, the need to maintain social distancing means public transport can’t operate at usual capacity. And fears of crowded public transport will lead to commuters making a much higher proportion of trips in private vehicles – unless they are offered viable alternatives such as the ones we discuss here.

Impact of physical distancing on public transport capacity.
International Transport Forum, OECD

Our initial analysis (as yet unpublished) of Australia’s major cities suggests a shift to cars will produce severe traffic congestion if even a modest proportion of the workforce returns to their usual workplaces during the COVID-19 recovery. In this article, we suggest some public transport solutions to avoid congestion caused by a shift to car travel.




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Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes


Globally, this trajectory is already becoming apparent. As lockdowns are eased, car use is rising much more quickly than public transport use. The latest figures from cities as diverse as Berlin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Auckland and Sydney all show this.

What are the implications of this trend?

First, the shift to private vehicles will be a bigger problem in cities with centres traditionally served by public transport than dispersed, car-dominated regions. Modelling by Vanderbilt University in the US showed an 85% shift of mass transit riders to cars would increase daily commute times by over sixty minutes in New York, but merely four minutes in Los Angeles. This is because public transport serves a mere 5% of journeys to work in Los Angeles but 56% in New York.

In cities that rely heavily on public transport, or even those with car-dominated suburbs but transit-dominated centres such as Sydney and Melbourne, a shift to cars for CBD trips will very quickly overwhelm the capacity of the road network. Pre-pandemic, 71% of trips to the Sydney CBD and 63% to Melbourne’s CBD were on public transport. So, while travel volumes may remain well below pre-pandemic levels for some time, road traffic is recovering faster than other travel modes.

Sydney’s and Brisbane’s road traffic volumes have already returned largely to pre-pandemic levels even while most CBD offices remain empty. Melbourne isn’t far behind. Returning commuters are in for a shock.


Apple Mobility Trends

Apple Mobility Trends

Apple Mobility Trends



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What can we do about it?

Several commentators suggest now may be the time to apply congestion pricing – charging a fee to use roads in peak periods. However, when many people are making travel decisions based on the health risks, such policy may not produce the desired behaviour change.




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The alternative is to improve commuters’ public transport options, rather than trying to price congestion away. The aim should be to allow it to operate more effectively while still providing room for on-board social distancing.

This is no easy task, yet it may be politically and technically easier than rapidly bringing in a comprehensive road-pricing regime. Even with social distancing restrictions, public transport will use roads more efficiently than private cars.

This photo shows how much road space cars, buses and cyclists require to transport an equivalent number of people.
Cycling Promotion Fund/We Ride Australia

The return to work must be gradual and supported by considerable flexibility in working hours. This will help manage peak demands. But on its own it’s not enough if frequent public transport services continue to be offered only during a limited commuter peak.

More services, more often

So, public transport services need to run at high frequencies for many more hours in the day. Some analysts suggest services be run at peak frequencies for most of the day.

Many suburban bus services, particularly direct services along arterial roads, should run much more often than their existing peak offerings. Routes can be tweaked to remove unnecessary detours that lead to slow travel times.




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These frequent, direct services should be supported by rigorous cleaning, visual guidance to maintain separation on platforms and within vehicles, and tools to help identify crowded vehicles.

Most importantly, we need to rapidly create “pop-up” dedicated bus lanes right across metropolitan areas. These lanes allow buses to avoid being held up by increasing traffic volumes. Although bus lanes may reduce capacity for private vehicles, when buses run frequently they are a much more efficient use of scarce road space.

Faster travel times for public transport would, in turn, mean operators could deliver more frequent services with existing fleets and drivers. This would reduce the operational cost of allowing for social distancing.




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Frequent services on these pop-up corridors will provide a critical, time-competitive alternative to driving. Although not without its challenges, implementing a fast and frequent bus network is conceptually straightforward and the cost is modest compared to the congestion impacts it could offset.

This solution will require a nimble and co-operative approach from state and local transport authorities and private operators. Success will mean our transit-centred CBDs and district centres continue to function efficiently.

In the longer term, a fast and frequent metropolitan transit network will leave a lasting positive legacy, supporting carbon reduction and city-shaping investments such as Sydney’s Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail. Failure will lead to crippling congestion that erodes the economic and social strength of our previously vibrant cities.The Conversation

Iain Lawrie, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne and John Stone, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Smart cities can help us manage post-COVID life, but they’ll need trust as well as tech


Sameer Hasija, INSEAD

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away.” WHO executive director Mike Ryan, May 13

Vaccine or not, we have to come to terms with the reality that COVID-19 requires us to rethink how we live. And that includes the idea of smart cities that use advanced technologies to serve citizens. This has become critical in a time of pandemic.




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Smart city solutions have already proved handy for curbing the contagion. Examples include:

The robot dog called SPOT is being trialled in Singapore to remind people to practise physical distancing.

But as we prepare to move beyond this crisis, cities need to design systems that are prepared to handle the next pandemic. Better still, they will reduce the chances of another one.

Issues of trust are central

In a world of egalitarian governments and ethical corporations, the solution to a coronavirus-like pandemic would be simple: a complete individual-level track and trace system. It would use geolocation data and CCTV image recognition, complemented by remote biometric sensors. While some such governments and corporations do exist, putting so much information in the hands of a few, without airtight privacy controls, could lay the foundations of an Orwellian world.




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Our research on smart city challenges suggests a robust solution should be a mix of protocols and norms covering technology, processes and people. To avoid the perils of individual-level monitoring systems, we need to focus on how to leverage technology to modify voluntary citizen behaviour.

This is not a trivial challenge. Desired behaviours that maximise societal benefit may not align with individual preferences in the short run. In part, this could be due to misplaced beliefs or misunderstanding of the long-term consequences.

As an example, despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the US, many states have had public protests against lockdowns. A serious proportion of polled Americans believe this pandemic is a hoax, or that its threat is being exaggerated for political reasons.

Design systems that build trust

The first step in modifying people’s behaviour to align with the greater good is to design a system that builds trust between the citizens and the city. Providing citizens with timely and credible information about important issues and busting falsehoods goes a long way in creating trust. It helps people to understand which behaviours are safe and acceptable, and why this is for the benefit of the society and their own long-term interest.

In Singapore, the government has very effectively used social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram to regularly share COVID-19 information with citizens.

Densely populated cities in countries like India face extra challenges due to vast disparities in education and the many languages used. Smart city initiatives have emerged there to seamlessly provide citizens with information in their local language via a smartphone app. These include an AI-based myth-busting chatbot.




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Guard against misuse of data

Effective smart city solutions require citizens to volunteer data. For example, keeping citizens updated with real-time information about crowding in a public space depends on collecting individual location data in that space.

Australians’ concerns about the COViDSafe contact-tracing app illustrate the need for transparent safeguards when citizens are asked to share their data.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Individual-level data is also useful to co-ordinate responses during emergencies. Contact tracing, for instance, has emerged as an essential tool in slowing the contagion.

Technology-based smart city initiatives can enable the collection, analysis and reporting of such data. But misuse of data erodes trust, which dissuades citizens from voluntarily sharing their data.

City planners need to think about how they can balance the effectiveness of tech-based solutions with citizens’ privacy concerns. Independent third-party auditing of solutions can help ease these concerns. The MIT Technology Review’s audit report on contact-tracing apps is one example during this pandemic.




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It is also important to create robust data governance policies. These can help foster trust and encourage voluntary sharing of data by citizens.

Using several case studies, the consulting firm PwC has proposed a seven-layer framework for data governance. It describes balancing privacy concerns of citizens and efficacy of smart city initiatives as the “key to realising smart city potential”.

As we emerge from this pandemic, we will need to think carefully about the data governance policies we should implement. It’s important for city officials to learn from early adopters.

While these important issues coming out of smart city design involve our behaviour as citizens, modifying behaviour isn’t enough in itself. Civic leaders also need to rethink the design of our city systems to support citizens in areas like public transport, emergency response, recreational facilities and so on. Active collaboration between city planners, tech firms and citizens will be crucial in orchestrating our future cities and hence our lives.


The author acknowledges suggestions from Aarti Gumaledar, Director of Emergentech Advisors Ltd.The Conversation

Sameer Hasija, Associate Professor of Technology and Operations Management, INSEAD

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus has changed our sense of place, so together we must re-imagine our cities


Tony Matthews, Griffith University

Is it time to re-imagine our fundamental relationship with cities?

People bring cities to life. They interact, work, socialise and travel. Without this, cities are just collections of buildings and infrastructure.

This relationship is now on hiatus all over the world. The COVID-19 pandemic left thousands of cities empty, eerie and listless.




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We connect to cities by developing a “sense of place”. The concept describes how we perceive and attach to places through use. Our connection with cities changes over time but is always grounded in sense of place.

COVID-19 is fundamentally disrupting sense of place. It is causing transformative change in cities all over the world. Daily parts of city life, like shared seating, busy trains and eating out, have suddenly become threatening.

Many urban dwellers are redefining their sense of place in response. We may not view our cities the same way after this pandemic. Our perceptions and priorities may change, perhaps permanently.

As we start planning for cities after this pandemic, we should recognise this task is as much philosophical as practical.




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Transforming the present

It is useful to consider what exactly the COVID-19 pandemic represents for cities and why it can change people’s sense of place so profoundly.

Mary Street, Brisbane, during the lockdown.
Kgbo/Wikemedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The pandemic impacts are so severe it can be classified as a “transformative stressor”. These rare events cause severe and intense social, environmental and economic impacts. They are felt at every level of society and throughout social institutions.

Profound shocks are felt all at once in economic activity, human health and social order. Impacts occur at all scales. Almost everybody endures multiple forms of disruption.

Transformative stressors can be unforgiving in exposing problems and weaknesses in systems. They can be catastrophic in cities because so many systems are integrated, creating multiple points of impact.

COVID-19 also fits the transformative stressor model because it might not be possible to fully manage it. Recovery planning needs to account for the possibility COVID-19 might never disappear. It could become an ongoing risk of city life.

What was a distant worry becomes an immediate threat when a transformative stressor hits a city. Things that were once reliable and comfortable no longer are. Our behaviour changes in response, causing us to reconsider our sense of place over time.

How does sense of place change when the familiar becomes sinister?
Tony Matthews, Author provided



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Co-creating the future

The transformative impacts of this pandemic are upending established norms. But policy innovation can flourish at times like this. Transformative stressors give policymakers unique opportunities to work outside their normal methods.

People have stoically endured lockdowns in many countries. Working from home with limited mobility will further prompt many to re-evaluate their sense of place. Many people will want a big say in the fundamental decisions to be made on the future of their cities after this.




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As they seek innovative ways to help cities recover, planners can learn important lessons by consulting urban residents. Online co-creation processes and workshops are excellent tools for gathering the people’s thoughts and aspirations at this unique time.

Participating in workshops can also help residents redefine their sense of place in cities disrupted by COVID-19. They can describe how the crisis changed their perceptions and use of space. This allows them to redefine their sense of place by considering the future with full acknowledgement of the past.

Residents are engaging more closely with their own neighbourhoods at the moment. This allows them to reconsider their local sense of place. New trends will be revealed through engagement with the public, reflecting changes in their sense of place.

At minimum, there is likely to be more community interest in improving active transport options. Many people have been reminded of the pleasures of walking and cycling. Other new priorities may be more green space and better social infrastructure.




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On the other hand, enthusiasm for public transport might fall and car ownership rates could rise.

Plenty of parking spaces at this suburban train station. Will we be comfortable taking public transport after lockdowns end?
Tony Matthews

The road ahead

The transformative impacts of this pandemic prompt fundamental questions. Do people have the same enthusiasm for city living? Is it time for new urban realities? What would new realities look like? How would they be achieved?

These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary responses. It is not a time for planners and policymakers to plan for people; it is a time to plan with people.

Many innovations in urban planning are founded in efforts to improve human health. COVID-19 will undoubtedly prompt a new round of thinking about how cities can be re-imagined. It will be a big adjustment for urban planning, which has traditionally relied on the relative predictability of how people use space.

People’s perception and attachment to places is changing, perhaps forever. Decisions on where to go from here will be better made if planners understand how people are redefining their sense of place in this time of profound upheaval.




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The Conversation


Tony Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why coronavirus must not stop Australia creating denser cities



Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Max Holleran, University of Melbourne

Stay-at-home orders have meant many people are happy to live in dispersed suburbs with free-standing, single-family homes. Quarantine feels less daunting with a backyard, plenty of storage space to stockpile supplies, and a big living room for morning stretches. Before the crisis, though, Australia was slowly moving toward urban density.

More apartments with communal amenities, rather than privatised space, were being built, creating less dependence on driving. It is easy to think these urbanites are now glumly looking out their windows towards the more spacious suburbs, wishing they had made different choices. Yet, despite the impacts of restrictions, Australia’s future is in urban density and not the suburban sprawl of the past.




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The benefits of density done well

Before the world changed and Australians were ushered inside en masse, the country was making great strides toward creating more compact, walkable cities. Denser neighbourhoods provided multiple benefits:

  • better access to transport alternatives to cars

  • the creation of vibrant commercial districts

  • increased ability to house more people during affordability and homelessness crises.




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Nationally, we were building almost as many apartment units as single family homes. In cities like Melbourne and Sydney, apartment construction even surpassed stand-alone houses despite lax quality regulations and design and construction flaws.

Density was achieved not just through towers for Asian investors in CBDs, but more subtle alterations such as townhouses and small blocks of flats. Residents moving into these neighbourhoods affirmed a sense of environmental consciousness, based on driving less, but also the belief in tight-knit communities with small businesses, parks and thriving street life.

Townhouses, like these in Hobart, increase urban density more unobtrusively than high-rise apartment blocks.
David Lade/Shutterstock



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Beware the siren call of suburbia

With the onset of COVID-19, it seems Australia’s new-found love of city living might be over, reverting to the suburban norm. The suburbs always offered a sense of safety, now more than ever.

Yet much of this is illusory. People still have to go shopping and, in many cases, to work, where they could be exposed to the virus. People have just as much control over their physical space in an apartment as in a house. (The exception is the lifts, but distancing measures and gloves can easily reduce risk.)

Australians may be tempted to re-embrace suburbia out of nostalgia for pre-virus safety, but they should remember what brought them to cities in the first place. As the architect Robin Boyd bemoaned way back in his 1960 critique of suburbanisation, The Australian Ugliness:

… the suburbs’ stealthy crawl like dry rot eating into the forest edge.

With 60 years of government policy propping up sprawl through freeway construction and tax breaks like negative gearing, it continues to be its own kind of infection scarring the landscape.




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Don’t blame public health failures on density

Despite re-animated fears of living closer together, many countries that have successfully contained the coronavirus have some of the most densely populated cities in the world. These cities include Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei. They have done this not by separating people but by increasing testing and contact tracing.




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What is needed during a pandemic is not panic but effective public health. Prosperous, well-managed city governments are often best placed to offer these services to the community.

Negative examples like the United States, where the Trump administration has devolved responsibilities to states and cities, provide even more proof of why cities have to be at the forefront of public health campaigns, whether or not they choose that role voluntarily. The same could be said of Australia, where state governments in Victoria and New South Wales took the lead on restricting gatherings as the national government dithered.

Now, more than ever, we are appreciating urban life from afar: making lists of our favourite restaurants, changing our Zoom background during “virtual happy hour” to the interior of our local pub, and yearning for social connections that have migrated online.

We should listen to our desires and use this moment to double down on urban density when the crisis subsides, by funding mass transit and providing incentives to construct apartments rather than free-standing suburban homes.

Low-density living is less sustainable, less affordable and less fun. We should all remember that, despite currently having to keep our distance from one another.




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The Conversation


Max Holleran, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.